PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The buzz around the men’s basketball team at 1304 Forbes Avenue these days is easily recognizable.
In fact, the energy around both Duquesne hoops teams is the highest it’s been in a long time. The women are 13-3 on the season and just like their male counterparts, tied for first atop the Atlantic 10 standings.
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It’s easy to dismiss the quick start by the men’s team, though, as nothing more than a team taking advantage of perennial contenders—Dayton and George Washington—experiencing down years. That argument fails to recognize the progress the Dukes have shown in the last 11 games, specifically in shutting down opponents.
“The numbers aren’t going to lie,” head coach Keith Dambrot said Monday of his team’s improvement. “The statistics are the same in the A-10 games as they are in the other games. So it has nothing to do with competition.”
And while the recent play of the Dukes has gained some attention on social media among the national media types, Dambrot believes Duquesne’s perception around the league hasn’t changed much.
Amazing start by Keith Dambrot. Duquesne is 12-4 overall & 3-0 in the A10 @atlantic10. Coach Dambrot inherited a team that went 3-15 in the A10 last year. Many major conference schools miss the opportunity to hire him.
— Paul Biancardi (@PaulBiancardi) January 7, 2018
“I think they still think we’re garbage,” Dambrot said. “They just think we’ve played some teams we can beat and eventually Duquesne will be what Duquesne is. They think the league’s down. They don’t think we’re any good.”
However, Monday might have been the first time all season Dambrot tipped his hand. Generally, he meets with the local contingent of reporters in the media room but instead held court in the team’s practice facility after an early morning workout. With players heaving up extra shots in the background and reporters gathered around in a semi-circle, Dambrot’s body language read as such: let the rest of the league think what they want, I’ve got a pretty damn good basketball team.
As a coach, you don’t win 425 games at this level and not recognize when you’ve got something good on your hands.
Rarely does an interview or postgame press conference end without Dambrot or one of the players alluding to the team’s dead-last preseason ranking. When asked if his message to the team has been the league doesn’t believe in them, Dambrot paused, noticeably forced back a smile and shrewdly responded, “That’s a good message.”
“When we started to win and played a good game against Dayton and then another game against George Washington, they’re making believers out of me,” Dambrot said.
The resurgence is also supported by the KenPom rankings. Duquesne is up 100 spots—No. 161 as of Tuesday morning—since the City Game and ahead of Pitt (180) and Robert Morris (195), two teams the Dukes lost to earlier in the season.
The Dukes have an opportunity to blow the doors wide open on their perception Tuesday night with a road tilt at VCU. The Rams have sold out 109 games in row and are 94-15 during that span. Duquesne has never won in Richmond (0-2) and is eight-point underdogs according to most websites.
— Duquesne Basketball (@DuqMBB) January 7, 2018
“We’re just going to have to make sure we do a good job in that building,” Dambrot said of VCU’s raucous home court environment.
If the Dukes score their second straight road victory, they’re going to convert a whole bunch of non-believers.
Internally, athletic director Dave Harper and other key officials believed the Dukes would be poised to shakeup the conference standings next year. Not this year. Dambrot was applauded as one of the best hires in Division I during the offseason, and he’s more than delivered in his first season.
Under its new head coach, Duquesne is playing with a chip on its shoulder. It’s the combination of motivation and talent that actually makes teams scary. The Dukes have both right now. The rest of the league might not see it, but Dambrot does, despite his pokerface.